The right for possession of handguns by civilian people in the U.S has been a long political debate that has aroused different opinions from various quarters. Jenten notes in The Guardian of the U.S.A. as a country that has the maximum number of civilians possessing guns. Historically, every state has had its laws governing the individual ownership and the use of guns. The state gun laws vary from the state to the state. The nation has such states with a loose regulation such as in the case with the most southern, western, as well as rural states. However, gun laws are more restrictive in large cities. The U.S. citizens have the right to own the weapon by the Second Amendment. The Constitution bans any infringement on the possession and use of weapon meant to protect states and to give the rights to individuals to possess guns for their security. Nevertheless, this provision has been misinterpreted by scholars believing that the Constitution refers to the collective rights of states to have the armed militias in order to protect their people (Jenten 14). On the other hand, the conservative scholars have been on the forefront to champion the individual rights on the ownership for guns citing that the Second Amendment has given citizens the right to possess guns as their private property. And as such, any restrictions on the ownership of guns impede individual rights (Jenten 16). This essay examines all sides of the debate on the individual possession of weapon and strives to come up with the middle ground.
According to the research done by Gallup in 2011, 34 percent of all Americans have their own gun. The same report indicates that 47 percent of the American adults have a gun either at their homes or elsewhere (Saad 11). The report also shows that the public support for the ownership of guns by individuals is at the peak. Guns are associated with violence, but despite the fact that the U.S. has the highest number of citizens who personally own the weapon, the country does not have the highest murder rate. According to The Guardian, such positions go to Honduras, Jamaica, and El Salvador. The U.S. is ranked as the number 28 (Jenten 17).
Different laws have been approved in the efforts to regulate the possession of firearm in the U.S. One of the crucial legislations that passed to control the possession of firearm was the Gun Control Act approved in 1968 (“The District of Columbia” 8). This happened after the murder of the President Kennedy and the King, Jr. The legislation expanded on licensing and record keeping. It also prohibited the felons and mentally sick from possessing guns. In addition, the act also prohibited the mail ordering guns. In the period between 1985 and 1996, many states eased their restrictions on the concealed possession of guns. In more recent cases, the Americans courts have nullified restrictive laws on the possession of guns by individuals (McDonald 16).
In one of the cases called District of Columbia vs. Heller (2003), a lawsuit was filed to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s restrictive laws on the possession of weapon. The state had enacted restrictive laws following the high gun violence rate, and, as such, the possession of handguns was outlawed except if owned by police officers or some other individuals (“District of Columbia” 12). Although the lawsuit was dismissed by the District Court, a majority of votes by the federal Appeals Court held that the Second Amendment gave individuals the right to possess arms, although the government had a mandate to regulate the use and possession of handguns. In the other case McDonald vs. Chicago (2010), the U.S. Supreme Court resolved ambiguities in the D.C. vs. Heller ruling and outlawed Chicago’s restrictive laws on the possession of arms (“McDonald” 14). The majority in the ruling cited that the Americans had the right to own a gun, and that such privileges apply to each state. This implies that the right of possessing guns in the U.S. is deeply entrenched in the Constitution, and the courts protect that privilege.
The possession of guns by private citizens in the U.S. is a basic constitutional right, although different incidents have challenged such right. For instance, in 1999, the Columbian High School in Colorado witnessed the death of more than ten students and teachers made by the hands of the armed citizen. According to Utter (141), more than 32 students and teachers from Virginia Tech were killed through the hands of the armed citizen. These incidents and other smaller cases of homicides have led to the debate concerning the possession of handguns by private citizens (142). As such, the possession of handguns by private citizens is a practice that has the rewards and punishments. In order to establish a middle ground, there is the need to examine all sides of the debate.
In his book Pros and Cons: Absolute Concepts (1999), Gaita deals with some of the controversial issues in the society today. One of the issues he tackles with is the ownership of handguns. He provides a balanced view on the issue by providing the pros and cons of owning handguns. As the pros, he argues that the ownership of guns is a fundamental right encompassed in the country’s constitution (Gaita 264). This right is incorporated in the second amendment of 1791, and, as such, it is prohibiting the possession of guns as an encroachment of the fundamental human rights. He adds that possessing the gun is necessary for a self-defense (264). This is especially needed in the wake of the increased gun crimes, particularly in the U.S.
Gaita (265) states that although ordinary citizens may not have the access to firearms, criminals have these dangerous weapons. Therefore, unless the government succeeds in ensuring that criminals do not possess and use the weapon, it would be irrationally for law-abiding citizens to remain without a defense. Prohibiting the private ownership for handguns would imply that the criminals have the upper hand; hence, they can ambush and kill other citizens with no reaction from victims (Gaita 264). However, legalizing citizens to possess handguns will make them effectively defend themselves in the case of attacks from armed criminals. Although tragedies may occur only if criminals and psychopaths possess these handguns; however, banning the possession of handguns cannot eradicate such cases.
Gaita gives one of the cons of owning handguns, as that it is only a basic right in the U.S. itself, since such right has not been found in the U.N.U.D.H.R. It is not as well found in the European Convention on the Human Rights (264). In addition, the rights are not immutable and timeless, but should be open to criticism and change during some time. Even in the U.S., where citizens have the right to possess guns, such right must be considered in the light of the increase in the gun-related crimes. This is due to permitting the ownership of handguns that will unavoidably increase the number of citizens using and misusing guns. Therefore, the prohibition of handguns will reduce some gun deadly cases. Another argument opposed to the possession of handguns is that the violence, regardless of the circumstances, is always wrong (Gaita 264).
According to Gaita (263), the society should resort to some non-violent ways such as in the case of dealing with the racial discrimination or mugging. The criminal is bound to be more harmful while dealing with the armed citizen, which may lead to one or both parties being injured or even killed (Gaita 265). Instead of allowing people to possess handguns, they should be taught of the unarmed forms of self-defense. Permitting the ownership of weapon endangers the mentality of vigilantism (265). The police are entrusted with the role of protecting citizens; so the private citizens should not be armed to protect themselves. In addition, the various massacres, in which innocent people have been killed in the hands of armed citizens, are the indirect consequences of the ownership of weapon. Although banning handguns may not totally eliminate such incidents, this will ensure that the fewer guns are in circulation, fewer people are able to use them (Gaita 264).
The possession of handguns in the U.S. is an issue that is germane among the college students. This is due to the fact that most of the gun-related massacres have been meted out to college students and teachers. According to Utter (2008), the shooting at Virginia Tech University in 2007 that caused the deaths of 32 people has witnessed various proposals made towards allowing students to possess the concealed weapon, while being at school (142). Nevertheless, Utter states that 38 states in the U.S. prohibit students from possessing concealed guns while being in the campus; although schools in Colorado are supposed to enact their own laws concerning carrying the concealed guns (142). He also adds that Oklahoma State allows students to pass the firearms training to carry concealed guns to the campus (Utter 142). College students are caught in the debate surrounding the possession of firearm. The proponents argue that the tragic incidents, such that happened in the Columbine High School and Virginia Tech University could have been avoided if someone in the campus had the concealed handgun to stop this shooting. This, this could decrease the extent of the tragedy (143).
In conclusion, it is difficult to find the golden middle for such discursive issue as the possession of handguns. Both sides of the argument should be viewed analytically. The matter is complicated with the lack of consensuses on the constitutional interpretation of the provision to possess the weapon. Although handguns are crucial for the self-defense, they may also lead to some accidents at home, especially when they get in the wrong hands, for example, to kids; or may end up being used against friends and family members. Nonetheless, the public needs to be educated of the rewards and punishments of the possession of firearms. In addition, the background checks should be emphasized in order to ensure that guns do not get into the hands of criminals, psychopaths, or mentally-ill people. Otherwise, banning the use of handguns will only lead to more lawsuits processed, since many people believe that the possession of weapon infringes the citizens’ basic rights. The only solution is to teach citizens to live with guns safely and with a full responsibility.